A bobber is a modified motorcycle from which non-essential parts are removed to make it lighter and faster with considerably better handling. Depending on what you’re going for, you may also end up with a modified chassis.
Essentially, Bobber is a style of customization rather than a type of motorcycle. Still, there is more to these bikes than meets the eye, as they are just as loud and catchy as their better-known cousins, the choppers.
To really get the whole point of a bobber motorcycle, let’s consult our history textbooks. But first,
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A Brief History of the Bobber Motorcycle
Despite the current online frenzy around bobbers, they have been around for over a hundred years. That’s almost as long as we have had the motorcycle on public roads! That’s because the “bob-job” was invented soon after World War II when mechanically savvy war veterans started acquiring former army bikes and stripping them down to make them lighter and faster.
Harley themselves had tried it on the production line with their J-series back in the 20s with a level of success.
Bobber Culture Started When the War Ended
During the war, they had been accustomed to lighter and nimbler European-made bikes. What’s more, the bob jobs reflected the aesthetic tastes of individual owners. Bobbers grew ever more popular throughout the 40’s and 50’s with Indian, Harley Davidson, and Triumph being early adopters of the style.
These three manufacturers made frames that were custom-friendly and did not need to be chopped down in a bob job. They even made supplied parts and accessories to make the bob job a breeze.
But Choppers Took Over in the Sixties
The bobber culture would, however, take a backseat for most of the second half of the 20th century as the more attention-seeking choppers came on the horizon as we rolled into the swinging sixties, a time of social change instigated by strong counterculture and youth driven cultural revolution.
Choppers are so personalized and involve such an abominable act of dismembering the chassis that manufacturers wouldn’t dare to follow.
And Then Boobers Resurfaced in the 90s
But just when we thought we had lost it forever, the bobber motorcycle culture resurfaces in the late 1990s! This was the era of “street fighters”, the answer to an empty wallet and a crashed sports bike, remember? And just like with naked bikes, manufacturers jumped on the opportunity and started building their own factory bobbers, which are great news for those of us not handy with tools or simply lack the time and inclination to undertake custom bike projects.
Examples include the new Triumph Bonneville Bobber, Triumph Bobber TFC, Indian Scout Bobber, 2023 Harley Davidson Street Bob 114, and Honda Rebel 500 (CMX500).
For more information on the best bobber motorcycles, check out my post “Is a Bobber Motorcycle Street Legal? Find Out the Answer and Riding Options for 2023.”
But whether DIY or factory, certain characteristics set bobbers apart from other motorcycle mods.
Bobber Motorcycles’ Simplicity Makes Them So Fascinating!
It’s a common occurrence for many of us to misidentify custom-designed bikes, particularly when it comes to–what is a bobber motorcycle. The “bobber” moniker can be used on any motorcycle that has received a “bob-job” i.e., removing or shortening the front and rear fenders and all non-essential parts to reduce weight while improving performance and handling.
The steering geometry of the bike is mostly left untouched or improved for better handling at higher speeds. A bobber is often made with the intent to race the motorcycle, so even tiny weights like indicators are considered baggage.
Real Bobbers Ride Solo
In addition to the stripped-down appearance and shortened (bobbed) rear fender, you’ll know bobbers by its minimalist handlebar setup and a low-profile single saddle seat with spring suspension (no pillion seat). The spring mounted seat is necessary because many bobbers alter the frame into a “hardtail” without a rear suspension.
It’s All About Those Lines
Original bobbers didn’t have much in the way of colors except for triple black and mat black with highlights. There are typically no shiny chrome appendages, and the chassis is often left intact. But if the frame is altered, then it usually results in a rigid rear end with a shorter wheelbase and an emphatic diagonal running through the rear axle, seat saddle, and the steering head.
A Bobber Shouldn’t Be Confused with a Chopper or Scrambler
More on the features and evolution of bobber still to come, but first, a quick but necessary distinction!
Because Choppers Are Modified Purely to Add Style
Although also stripped and almost nude as compared to stock cruisers from which they are often derived, the wheelbase is increased by using an exaggerated front fork. Much of the chassis and steering geometry is altered in the process yet weight reduction is not that much of a concern.
In fact, a fresh horde of custom motorcycle parts like fenders, exhausts, gas tank, front fork stabilizer, and oil tanks are often added with chromed appendages to make the bike as beautiful as possible. In contrast, bobbers retain the chassis and are more achievable than choppers.
And Scramblers Are Street Bikes Modified to Go Off-Road
They are reminiscent of the 1920s when British bikers raced across a mix of terrains. The bikes feature higher than usual exhausts and ground clearance with modified or aftermarket suspension and knobbly dual-purpose tires to go anywhere. They may feature spoked wheels with aluminum rims for off-road use and wide handlebars for better steering on rough terrain.
Most scramblers will also have flat bench seat style, and overall bike geometry is horizontal with a higher-than-average height.
Well, if you’re eager to build your own, here is how to do so.
How to Build a Bobber Motorcycle in 2 Simple Ways
Because the design concept is subtraction, bobbers are relatively easy projects to embark on even for first timers. To build one, you’ll need to pick an easily convertible motorcycle model, customize it by removing “unnecessary” parts, and install some aftermarket parts and accessories to make your ride worthwhile.
1. Choosing a Base Motorcycle
If you’re considering American fashion bikes, you’re on the right track. They do make some of the best base models for a custom bob job, but they are not the only ones. You should look for a motorcycle with an emphatic diagonal in its frame structure, with the steering head above the seat. Simply put, you should be able to draw a straight line through the steering head, the seat mount, and the rear axle.
Secondly, you want a motorcycle that is cheap and easy to find if you don’t already have one lying around. Think Yamaha Virago, Honda Shadow, Kawasaki Vulcan, Yamaha Dragstar, or you really must have a BMW bobber, the K100.
2. Customizing and Modifying the Bike
Well, now that you have a bike, it’s really happening! But you can’t just start hacking parts off, You need a plan. First, you’ll need to imagine the design you want and obtain some plans. No single drawing, no matter how detailed, will be suitable for all bobbers so you’ll have to get one that is unique to your design.
You can buy detailed drawings online or draft quick sketches on the kitchen counter, what matters really is the end product.
Start with modifying the stock frame; bobbers will typically have a hardtail rear creating that neat diagonal from the steering head down the neck to the rear axle plate. So, you may have to swap out your swingarm and rear shocks for one. Based on the frame you’re working with, there could be prefabricated hardtails.
A bolt-on section is preferable to a weld-on one if you should wish to reverse the changes in the future. Bikes with readily available rear-end sections include Shovelheads, Yamaha XS400, XS650, Honda CB450K and CB750, Kawasaki KZ400, and Harley-Davidson Sportster.
Once done with the frame it’s time to work on the front and rear of your bobber build. One important factor to consider is with the modification at the rear, you now may have to use shorter forks at the front to restore how your bike steers–you don’t want it raking out like a chopper as this leads to poorer handling. Pay attention to the choice of wheels as well because it directly affects the bikes’ geometry.
Ideally, you should get your lower frame tubes back to parallel with the ground. Also, you want to remain with only bare minimums so you can get rid of the bulky headlight and cowl, gas and oil tanks, handlebars and control switches, and instrument clusters in favor of smaller functional ones. The same goes for the indicators and or avoid them altogether where the law allows.
Oh, and if you chose to hardtail it, you would need a sprung solo seat with a pivot mount–otherwise every bump and dip in the road will be amplified and faithfully transmitted to your bum and spine!
How Much Does Building a Bobber Motorcycle Cost?
Custom bike projects are not for the faint-hearted. They can be complex projects, and costs can really pile up stalling the project. You need to decide upfront how much time and money you’ll be willing to invest and make inquiries about the cost of parts and labor you might need along the way to get a proper figure. Just the same, here are general guidelines you can follow to keep the costs low.
- Start with a suitable well-running motorcycle.
- Budget for and gather all required parts for your build
- Plan which jobs you’re likely to outsource and how much it will cost
- Prefer handmade and finished parts over those having to be plated at higher costs
- Keep your vision with no radical changes no matter what anyone thinks.
Pro Tip: A good bob-job is reversible. Ideally, you can remove all the modified parts and restore the stock options without damaging the bike or incurring too much expense.
My Final Thoughts on What Is A Bobber Motorcycle
As always, your safety comes before all else. Have a professional check out your welds or bolts before taking your bobber on the highway. And if you doubt you can finish a job by yourself, have someone with experience do it with or for you. Local laws vary on whether you can keep the VIN number or apply for a special permit to operate the vehicle so make sure you comply. Build and ride safely!
I've diligently categorized my motorcycle gear recommendations into all available categories, with the aim of providing you with a comprehensive analysis that showcases the absolute best options for all your needs. These items are the culmination of in-depth research, extensive testing, and personal use throughout my vast experience of 50+ years in the world of motorcycling. Besides being a passionate rider, I've held leadership positions and offered consultancy services to reputable companies in over 25 countries. To See Top Picks and the Best Prices & Places to Buy: Click Here!
Information for this article was partially sourced and researched from the following authoritative government, educational, corporate, and non-profit organizations: